Rep. Adam Schiff on Democrats’ articles of impeachment against Trump

Jerry Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, unveiled two articles of impeachment today against President Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The first accuses him of “corruptly soliciting” election help from Ukraine. The second accuses him of “unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance” of Congressional subpoenas -- when he refused to allow members of his administration to testify before the House or release related documents. 

It’s likely that Trump will become the third president to be impeached. Republicans say Democrats are overreaching and have rushed to impeach before all the facts came out.

A key figure in this process is Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He explains how the House settled on these two articles: “We wanted to look at what was the most immediate concern to the country. And that involved the president's effort to get a foreign power to intervene in the next election, to help his campaign by announcing two investigations, one into Joe Biden and one into this debunked conspiracy theory pushed out by the Russians that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the last election. Both of those investigations, the president was willing to try to coerce Ukraine into doing by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars that Ukraine needed to defend itself from Russia, as well as a White House meeting that the president of Ukraine desperately sought to demonstrate his relationship with the president of the United States.”

Schiff notes that ironically today, as Democrats announce the articles, Trump is meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “That tells you something when our allies can't get in the door of the White House, but our adversaries can,” he says.

Why not include an ‘obstruction of justice’ article? 

Democrats were divided over whether to charge Trump with more articles of impeachment, specifically obstruction of justice related to the Mueller report, which outlined 10 possible instances of obstruction of justice. What was the calculation to not include that? Was there also some worry that some House Democrats wouldn't go for it? 

Schiff says the House would have gotten enough votes to include all three articles, had a decision been made that all three were necessary. 

“But what we really prioritized were the counts that were the greatest significance and importance now, in terms of protecting the integrity of the next election,” he says. 

If the House votes yes on both of these articles, will Schiff be making the argument at the Senate trial? 

That decision is up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I will, of course, play whatever role the speaker would like me to play or not play,” Schiff says.

Will there be amendments to the two articles? Will more articles be introduced?  

“That will be the subject of the markup that takes place later this week. There was, as you might imagine, a lot of thought put into every line, every word of the draft of these two articles. … If there are well-founded, thought out issues, I'm sure that they will be the subject of the markup,” he says. 

During Monday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Republican lawyer Steve Castor criticized how fast Democrats are moving. His argument called for the subpoenas of recalcitrant administration officials, including former national security adviser John Bolton. 

Schiff explains that Democrats did not subpoena Bolton because “his lawyer told us that if we subpoenaed him, he would sue us in court.” He adds, “One of his aides is suing us in court right now. They have no standing to do that. But what they're seeking is delay.” 

Schiff says the people are who are arguing that Democrats should take more time in this process -- are those who aren’t asking the Trump administration to produce witnesses or documents. 

“What it really amounts to is, ‘Let's just let the president cheat in one more election because we won't get an answer from these courts before then. So let him cheat one more time, and then we can worry about it.’ And of course, that's not a satisfactory answer in a democracy,” Schiff says. 

What would preclude Trump from cheating again, even if he does get impeached? 

Schiff responds, “If the Republicans do their Constitutional duty and look to the evidence, I think the evidence would give them the basis to convict, in which case he will not be in a position to try to skew the next election by coercing foreign help in his reelection campaign. If the Republicans don't do their duty, then yes, our next election will remain in peril.”

He notes that in the decision to go forward, what was really compelling was the fact that the day after Bob Mueller testified about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Donald Trump got back on the phone with the president of Ukraine to seek foreign help. 

“That Zelensky call was on July 25. And Bob Mueller’s testimony was on July 24. That says to me: This is a president who feels he is unaccountable, above the law, beyond indictment with his own countrymen and the Justice Department … and also, at least at that time, felt beyond impeachment.” 

Schiff acknowledges that the Senate will unlikely vote to convict

“It is [unlikely]. At the same time, I don't feel that because Republican senators may relieve themselves of their obligation to follow the Constitution, that somehow justifies our doing the same. If they fail to do their duty, they will have to explain that to history. But we intend to do ours,” he says.  

Impeachment as a “political process” 

Schiff says impeachment is political in the sense that Congress members vote on it, rather than a jury. So it’s not a legal process, and president isn’t at risk of being imprisoned and losing his freedom, but rather at risk of losing his job. 

“When people call it a political process, that suggests … that this ought to be decided on the basis of politics. I don't think that should be the case at all,” he adds. “What I do think we need to consider is: What does this do in terms of the presidency? What does this mean -- if we don't impeach -- about whether a future president can likewise seek foreign help in an election or likewise block Congress' oversight?”

There are some loose ends in this investigation, including the role of Rudy Giuliani and Ukraine. Will Schiff further pursue that line or any others further? 

“We are planning to pursue that line. … The investigative work isn't done. There is more to uncover, including the role of people like [Mike] Pompeo, what the vice president was aware of, the chief of staff's full role. … But also what this cast of characters -- Giuliani, [Lev] Parnas, [Igor] Fruman and others -- what the full extent of their wrongdoing was; how early this plot started; was there an effort, as it appears, to get the last president in Ukraine, [Petro] Poroshenko, and his corrupt attorney general … to do the same sham investigation?” Schiff explains. 

So he acknowledges that more work is ahead. And he concludes, “The fact is we already have overwhelming evidence that the president's conduct resulted in an abuse of his office warranting his removal, that we don't need to wait until other witnesses win their way through the courts.” 

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy and Rebecca Mooney